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Prudent Steps for Avoiding Dioxin Exposure

By Kathleen Nelson

Nothing is so satisfying to a public health crusader as preventing a myriad of health problems at once. Now Robert Lawrence, MD, who for years has encouraged Americans to consume less animal fat for the sake of their health and the world’s natural resources, has added another reason to cut fat intake: dioxins.

Dioxins and dioxin-like compounds (DLCs) are pollutants mainly emitted by waste incineration and primarily stored in the fatty tissues of humans and animals. Though the Environmental Protection Agency has reported a steep decrease in environmental DLCs since the 1970s, dioxins are still accumulating in our bodies. High levels of dioxins have been linked to endocrine system impairment, neurodevelopment damage, and cancer. Humans are mainly exposed by consuming fat in fish, meat, and dairy products. Lawrence, associate dean for Professional Practice and Programs at the School and director of the School's Center for a Livable Future, chaired a committee of experts that developed guidelines for reducing dioxin levels in food. 

The committee’s study, overseen by the Institute of Medicine came up with three principal recommendations:

  • Scientists need to develop less expensive DLC testing techniques. Current methods cost up to $1,000 per sample.
  • Agencies should collaborate on problems that span toxicology, child neurodevelopment, animal feed systems, and other fields. 
  • Federal food programs should promote low-fat milk and lower saturated fat in school lunches to lessen accumulations of dioxin.

“Because the risks posed by the amount of dioxins present in foods have yet to be determined, we offer recommendations for simple, prudent steps to further reduce dioxin exposure while the data that will clarify the risks are gathered,” says Lawrence.